Osage Warrior Statue in Ponca City

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Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by Sculptor John Free. Seeking to attain his tribe's highest war honor by touching his enemy. The sculpture "Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp" by John Free and the mural "Hoop Dancer" by Yatika Starr Fields are located in Ponca City at 2401 Coppercreek. Among the Plains Indians of North America, counting coup involved the winning of prestige against an enemy. Native American warriors won prestige by acts of bravery in the face of the enemy, which could be recorded in various ways and retold as stories. Any blow struck against the enemy counted as a coup, but the most prestigious acts included touching an enemy warrior with a hand, bow, or coup stick and escaping unharmed. Touching the first enemy to die in battle or touching the enemy's defensive works also counted as coup, as did, in some nations, simply riding up to an enemy, touching him with a short stick, and riding away unscathed.

The bronze sculpture "Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp" by John Free is located in Ponca City at 2401 Coppercreek.

Bronze statue to grace Osage Nation campus through the end of the year

Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by Sculptor John Free (Hugh Pickens on left).

'Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp' by John Free Sr. can be seen on the ON campus between the Office of the Chiefs and the old Superintendent’s House

Written by Louise Red Corn, October 19, 2022

“Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp” by John Free Sr. can be seen on the ON campus between the Office of the Chiefs and the old Superintendent’s House and will be on loan until the end of the year. LOUISE RED CORN/Osage News Without much notice, a massive bronze statue on a trailer was parked in between the Office of the Chiefs and the old superintendent’s house on the Osage Nation campus – just in time for the Osage sesquicentennial celebration that is set for Oct. 22.

The sculpture is familiar to many in a much more diminutive size: Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp by John Free Sr. has long graced one of the pocket parks on Kihekah in downtown Pawhuska, and another one more recently was placed in the hotel lobby of the Osage Casino in Tulsa.

Alas, the stunning monumental-sized bronze is not to grace the Osage campus for long. In fact, it’s never even going to be unloaded from its trailer, said John Free Jr., who cast the sculpture at the Bronze Horse Foundry about three years ago for Hugh Pickens, a renaissance man from Ponca City who has invested heavily in Native American and other art along with his now-deceased wife, Dr. S.J. Pickens, who was a psychiatrist, civil rights warrior, advocate for the arts, and collector of turquoise and other Native American jewelry.

Free said that the sculpture will remain where it is on the trailer (which has a hitch lock, so don’t get any crazy ideas) until the end of the year, after which it will be moved to Woolaroc, where it will remain for a few months as part of an exhibit for that museum’s new Pickens Gallery. After that, it is to travel to Tonkawa to be displayed at the just-opened Pickens Learning Commons at Northern Oklahoma College, where it will join a 120-foot mural by Osage artist Yatika Fields that was also commissioned by Pickens and donated to the school.

“Osage Warrior in the Enemy Camp” by John Free Sr. can be seen on the ON campus between the Office of the Chiefs and the old Superintendent’s House through the end of the year. LOUISE RED CORN/Osage News Pickens could not be reached on Oct. 18, but he is an avid collector of art who is building the Pickens Museum on U.S. 60 west of his hometown of Ponca City and now displays works of art at NOC, Woolaroc and Ponca City’s City Central.

Pickens is a 1967 graduate of Ponca City High School whose biography reads like no other. He describes himself as a physicist who has explored for oil in the Amazon, commissioned microwave communications systems across that quarter of Saudi Arabia that is overwhelmingly bereft of people and build satellite control systems for the Goddard Space Flight Center. Since moving home to Ponca in 2005, he has been active in community theater, writing, backroading in his 1940 Hudson Country Club 8 hotrod, watching old movies, and mowing his expansive, 7-acre lawn.

The Osage Nation Sesquicentennial celebration is scheduled to take place on campus Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, starting at 9 a.m. and ending with fireworks from 9:30-10:30 p.m.

Highlights of the day include a reading for “Coyote and the Bear” at 10:15 a.m., a puppetry performance of the Osage creation story at 11:15 a.m., a performance of Wahzhazhe: An Osage Ballet at 1 p.m. and afternoon and evening dances at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. A full schedule of events is available at https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/150

Counting Coup

Among the Plains Indians of North America, counting coup involved the winning of prestige against an enemy. Native American warriors won prestige by acts of bravery in the face of the enemy, which could be recorded in various ways and retold as stories. Any blow struck against the enemy counted as a coup, but the most prestigious acts included touching an enemy warrior with a hand, bow, or coup stick and escaping unharmed. Touching the first enemy to die in battle or touching the enemy's defensive works also counted as coup, as did, in some nations, simply riding up to an enemy, touching him with a short stick, and riding away unscathed.

Counting coup could also involve stealing an enemy's weapons or horses tied up to his lodge in camp. Risk of injury or death was required to count coup. Escaping unharmed while counting coup was considered a higher honor than being wounded in the attempt.

After a battle or exploit, the people of a band would gather together to recount their acts of bravery and "count coup". Coups were recorded by putting notches in a coup stick. Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest would tie an eagle feather to their coup stick for each coup counted, but many nations did not do so. Among the Blackfoot nation of the upper Missouri River Valley, coup could be recorded by the placement of "coup bars" on the sleeves and shoulders of special shirts that bore paintings of the warrior's exploits in battle. Many shirts of this sort have survived to the present, including some in European museums. In some tribes, a warrior who won coup was permitted to wear an eagle feather in his hair, and if wounded in the attempt, he was required to paint the feather red to indicate this.

Among the Plains Indians

Counting coup, or striking an enemy, was the highest honor earned by warriors participating in the intertribal wars of the Great Plains. Native peoples recognized precise systems of graduated war honors, and usually the greatest exploit was counting coup. Key to a man's success in Plains combat was demonstrating his own courage by proving superiority over his opponent and, in a competitive sense, over his own comrades. Killing was part of war, but showing courage in the process was more important for individual status. This was best accomplished by risking one's life in charging the enemy on foot or horseback to get close enough to touch or strike him with the hand, a weapon, or a "coupstick."

Humiliating the enemy also played a part in this fighting, as illustrated by an account from the Jesuit missionary Father Pierre-Jean De Smet. In De Smet's 1848 visit to the Oglala Lakotas, the Oglala leader Red Fish related to the priest how his men had just suffered a disgraceful defeat at the hands of the Crows. The Crows killed ten Oglalas, then chased the others for a distance. The Crows then were content merely to repeatedly count coup on their enemies with clubs and sticks, thus demonstrating to the Oglalas that they were not worth the ammunition needed to kill them.

Counting coup carried over into the battles against American troops. For example, the Northern Cheyenne warrior Wooden Leg related how, as a young man at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, he and his friend Little Bird chased a soldier across the river, counting coup on him with their whips and grabbing his carbine. They did not kill him, said Wooden Leg, because after counting coup it did not seem particularly brave, and besides, it would waste bullets. Counting coup, then, was the epitome of a type of warfare that pitted the skill and daring of one man against another.

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